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Revisiting The Past: When A Reunion Is A Healing

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One day an email came from an old grammar school classmate. He sent me a picture of my grammar school class and asked me if I could help him identify some of the people in the picture. He was organizing a fifty-year class reunion. The truth was, we had never had a reunion before and my curiosity was peaked. I was able to help him with a few names and just the process of going over the pictures sucked me in. These were the kids I had spent eight years with, from first to eighth grades. They were the ones who I had been with in those early formative years and they were the only people in my life that had witnessed and experienced those school years where so much had happened.

As a looked over the class picture I was struck by several things. The size of the class was huge, fifty kids and one teacher, a hard core Catholic nun. These days that would be unacceptable but in the fifties it was status quo. The other thing I noticed was ethnicity: Italians, Irish, Hispanics, Armenians, Poles, and some Asians but only one African-American child. We were diversified in a Catholic school sort of way.

Over the next few months, e-mails were traded back and forth and little by little people responded and the reunion came together. Out of fifty students, twenty-two responded affirmatively that they would come. I was one of them. Not bad after fifty years.

Eventually the big day arrived. I flew to LAX, rented a car and drove around to some sites of my childhood years around Los Angeles and Hollywood. I went to the site of my old house where my grandmother had been hit by a car in front of my house. I remember hearing the big screech of tires, the sickening thump, and running out to kneel down in the street sobbing over her prone body. She was my primary caretaker for several years before and during grammar school. Waiting for cars to pass and using a little tobacco, I cleared the site of any past pain and trauma, and offered some forgiveness for what happened there, to the driver who hit her, to my Mexican grandmother for her constant jaywalking and for myself for being so upset and angry.

A few doors down from there was the site of my old house, the original ranch house for that section of Hollywood. To my grief, that house had been torn down when I was seven, to build an apartment house. I remember watching in tears as a bulldozer knocked down all the trees I spent so much time climbing, hanging and sitting in. This was an excellent place for some recapitulation work with more forgiveness of course. I stood in front of the decaying apartment house and offered some more tobacco and prayers.

I also offered some tobacco around the neighborhood to clear away memories of street-fights, fear of bullies, avoiding child molesters and the various events of growing up in East Hollywood. I went over to my friend’s house and offered some more tobacco around the house next to his where a terrible murder had happened, that had terrified us as kids and some more for the site where his brother committed suicide. I reflected on how tough those years were. We were not spared the traumas of life as kids. This was inner city stuff. It felt good to forgive it all and clear away the trauma, like a big completion.

I drove over to the place where at sixteen, I had stolen some tires off an old Volkswagon to replace the ones on mine. I realized how guilty I felt after all these years. More tobacco was needed here to clear the guilt and offer some prayers for whomever I had inconvenienced all those years ago. It was retrospective cleansing.

I moved on to another site a couple of miles away, near my dad’s work, where the tricycle I had been riding when I was three years old, with my brother pushing me, went out of control. I flew across a busy boulevard narrowly missing a car whose screeching brakes and smoking tires threatened to envelop me and remove me from this life. I survived. Just looking at the site caused my heart to beat faster and my mouth to go dry. This needed a little tobacco smoke as well.

Eventually it was time to go to the reunion. By this time in the afternoon I had been to quite a few places clearing and doing repair work on my childhood. I arrived at the site of my old Catholic school with some excitement and some trepidation. What if the only people that came did not remember me or what if they were not the kids who were my friends? What if we had nothing in common after all these years? I did not want to persist with these thoughts, so I did my little practice of giving the experience over to spirit and deciding that whatever happened was going to be exactly the way it was supposed to be and that I would learn something regardless. I went up the steps and walked into the auditorium and there were some older people in their sixties milling around already. There was the smiling face of one of my old friends and he looked at me with amazement and said, “I knew that was you just by your way of walking”. I looked around and there were more smiling faces and soon I was mingling with the others in absolute astonishment at what the fifty year gap had produced. While some people looked the same as they had looked in childhood, others bore no resemblance to what they used to look like and I had to peer at their name tags to identify them.

At first of course the interactions were a little awkward as people found their comfort zones, but as the afternoon wore on and more folks arrived, everyone loosened and warmed up. Little by little they offered up memories of events that had taken place long ago, little details that suddenly came to life as I recalled things I had long ago forgotten. One old friend told me that he remembered how dirty I always got playing sports because if there was any patch of dirt I was sure to fall on it. Some of the women embarrassed me by saying what a nice boy I had been, never abusing anyone. I suppose that is a good memory, but good boys are not really the stuff of legends. Unlike one of my classmates who had become the biggest drug dealer in Hollywood, made a fortune off cocaine, and who had been with half the women in the room. Of course that’s not who I wanted to be either.

I met a woman who had lived in Santa Fe, my hometown for the last forty years. I had never run into her in all that time. We marveled at the course our lives had taken, threads connecting us from past to present. Of course there were hard tales too. One woman had had a double mastectomy and her husband had died in her arms. Another old buddy had married and gone to medical school while wife died suddenly leaving him with three little children to raise while finishing medical school. Another women had clearly become an alcoholic after experiencing a very tough life. Three of my former classmates had passed away. One of them, a very attractive girl, had come from a family associated with the mafia. I was to hear other references to families and mafia, families and gambling, alcoholism, mental illness and so on, things I never suspected as a child.

This was a Catholic school taught by nuns and I noticed how many of my classmates were Italian and poor Irish Catholics, something I hadn’t registered before. No wonder so many of their families were into marginal activities.

Some of the people who came had news of those who had failed to show up. One old buddy had gone to Viet Nam and did three tours of duty as a helicopter tail gunner. He returned unharmed physically but perhaps not emotionally. He couldn’t bring himself to come. Another classmen from the year ahead of ours had returned from Viet Nam with no limbs left, a basket case. Another classmate had grown up without his father and struggled to find his identity. Then he and his father were reunited and eventually his father left him a successful business that he could take over. There were stories of loss, stories of divorce, stories of redemption, stories of raising children and grandchildren. Everyone showed obvious delight in sharing pictures and stories of their grandchildren. Very few mentioned their children. Children can be difficult, grandchildren less so.

The afternoon proceeded with a slideshow, pictures, hugs, laughing, and genuine pleasure at visiting each other. For the most part, my old classmates had become very decent older human beings. Many expressed their anxiety about coming, their concerns about whether they would be remembered or not. In fact, all the same thoughts I had had before arriving. Rather than distant, critical, or aloof people, this crowd was warm and reached out to one another. Many were clearly older souls. In fact, what was so interesting to me, was to see these people in the light of what I had learned about people over the years as a psychologist. I could now see their roles, their overleaves, their obstacles, and their soul ages quite clearly and in many cases, it was a total revelation about who they were. I realized that these were not just my old classmates, these were other me’s, my brothers and sisters in this amazing experimental dreamscape. Yes, we had gone to the same grammar school with similar memories about the nuns who had taught us, but they were also clearly in the same school of life for all these years. I realized that I loved these people and I certainly felt their love for each other and their total acceptance of me.

I found it easy to practice ho’oponopono as I sat with them and listened to their stories and I marveled at the long journey between Catholic childhood perspective with its guilt, shame, and fear and my understanding of life today, a grand adventure in consciousness. What an opportunity! I was so glad I went and over and over again I heard the same comment from my old classmates, “I’m so glad I came”. One old buddy said, “I wasn’t going to come but my wife insisted I come for healing”. “I am so glad I came”.

Eventually, the afternoon came to a close and most of the group agreed to go out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Of course the wine flowed and the guy with the accordion found us and before long the dinner turned into a raucous party that threatened to take over the restaurant. Toasts were delivered, toasts were received, wine was spilled, and people changed chairs all evening. The truth was no one wanted to leave. Here is where some of the more intimate sharing took place about what people’s lives had really been all about.

The next day we met a final time for brunch and once again this afforded us an opportunity to visit with different classmates and deepen the overall experience. I had a chance to sit and visit with a woman whom I considered to be my first girlfriend in the second grade. After all these years, I found we had a great deal in common and shared a great love for the adventure of life.

Of course throughout the event people shared what they had done for a living and this is always a challenge for me to decide what to share and what not to share. I could either be a conventional psychologist or I could be a writer who travels all over the world with groups visiting Shaman and teaching about Shamanism. I chose the latter. What the heck! After all, that’s who I am. Perhaps their eyes would glaze over and they would smile politely and then turn away in discomfort. What amazed me was the response. Some had never heard of Shamanism and wanted to know what it was. They were genuinely interested in the topic. Others knew a little but wanted to know much more. Some expressed delight that someone among their midst was doing something so outrageous and non-conventional and far from thinking about retiring.

Somehow the long journey around the wheel of life had come around to where it started, but one notch up. This was a milestone and I felt that the event changed and validated me in a good way like a powerful spontaneous ceremony to celebrate life’s journey. The most wonderful aspect of the experience was the love I felt there, a totally unexpected outcome.

Nothing is as it seems and memories, being so selective, can create a distorted picture of what has been. As a child, I was very insecure and introverted and so my picture of myself and my classmates had been from that perspective, very narrow. I viewed life as a hostile environment back then. At the time of my childhood, I thought I was a victim of life circumstances and was always fearful of being punished by God for being bad in some way. I was so worried about my own well being I failed to perceive the suffering and harsh realities of the companions around me. I realize now, that I create my own reality and I am ultimately responsible for everything that happens to me including what in my dreams happens in the lives of my co-dreamers.

In my adult dreamscape I orchestrated a reunion that was totally different from my memories and this was a great healing. Everything is medicine, even a reunion of childhood companions. I saw them for who they are, actors in a realistic play, complete with their own dramas, insecurities, traumas, and talents. They are all aspects of the greater I Am, various expressions of the one spirit. From this perspective, it is easy to forgive them for whatever insults may have happened in those years, the imagined snubs, the occasional shove, the snickers, and whatever judgments may have occurred. After all, I did my fair share of snubbing, judging, shoving, laughing at, and even meting out the occasional bloody nose. I find I can forgive myself for being a nasty kid on occasion. When all is said and done, I am enriched by the experience and glad that I did not withdraw from the reunion out of discomfort or fear. Some would prefer to let the past stay in the past but then they are forever stuck with how they remember it. The past can be re-perceived, re-remembered and that is where healing lies.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.